Corporate faith : “... our testimony ... ”

It struck me recently that maybe I’ve been misreading some stuff in Quaker sources where testimony is mentioned. I noticed it when I had a chance to read some of "Fit for freedom, not for friendship", in an extract quoted in that book from a minute made by a group of Friends early in the twentieth century. Perhaps I’m not the only one to have read Quaker stuff for several years without having understood this. Could a misreading have persisted so long as to be widely adopted? Look at this sentence fragment: “ ... the consequences of our testimony on ...” I’m pretty clear that in the context as it was written, the thing that had consequences was “our testimony”. The thing after “on” was the issue or facet of life that “our testimony” affected.

Maybe that is obvious to you, but it’s made a difference in how I understand the writing of previous generations of Quakers. They were able to say “our testimony”, without qualification, as something that had consequences for actions in various parts of their lives. That use of words to me speaks about a corporate testimony, a common understanding of the power and grace of God through Christ Jesus. That understanding, of the power and grace of God to change and redeem us in Christ and use our transformed lives as testimony, is the common source from which the consequences needed to be allowed to work through into each issue and aspect of our lives.

Can we say “our testimony” unqualified? Do you find that faith is joining you together with the others who are living in God’s power and grace? What effect is “our testimony”, the collective witness we can make about God’s grace, stirring up in your life right now?

Views: 83

Comment by Chronicler on 9th mo. 6, 2009 at 8:19pm
Alice - thy reading is correct. Historically, Friends used the word "testimony" to mean that the principles by which Friends live are a testimony that Christ Jesus is our Lord. Our choices are intended to point to Him, not to ourselves. This is readily apparent from reading old Quaker journals, minutes, or printed matter, which discuss this over and over. Friends testimonies (they usually called it "our testimony" or "our ancient testimony" until about 1910) had a spiritual focus. It was only in the last half century that the religious focus of testimonies was replaced by the current progressive political focus.

A testimony is different from a leading. A testimony might be considered a corporate leading, as they are/were expected of all Friends. Historically, a "leading" was a direction given by the Lord to an individual but did not rise to the level of corporate acceptance. Historically, leadings carried the expectation that the action was something that the person would not have done if Christ Jesus had not asked the person to do it. In the area where I live, non-Ohio Friends use the word "leading" in a manner to connote what the person does, whether or not a spiritual dimension or basis exists.

The SPICE acronym that is currently used to represent Friends testimonies (note that in the 20th century the word became plural) was an attempt to "modernize" and re-define Quakerism. Ohio Friends mostly reject the acronym as incomplete and lacking. Temperance disappeared from the list and has mostly been cast aside in many bodies. Perseverance, another testimony that Friends discussed a lot in earlier centuries, also disappeared. Plainness was watered down to simplicity.

Early Friends believed they had found the Truth, and they wrote much about the Truth. Most non-Ohio Friends where I live believe that we are not able to be anything more than seekers and that Truth either does not exist or cannot be known. Knowing the Truth was an early Quaker testimony and one that should be included if an appropriate acronym is brought forth in the near future. When one comes to know the Truth and be set free by the Truth (as Jesus said we would), our actions - like those of the woman with the alabaster box of ointment - should point to the lifestyle of one who is now living in the spiritual realm in addition to the physical realm. Thus Truth is a corporate leading or a testimony.
Comment by Isabel Penraeth on 9th mo. 8, 2009 at 10:04am
I have always thought one of the biggest things missing from "SPICE" was Love.
Comment by David Carl on 9th mo. 8, 2009 at 5:49pm
So, Isabel, we could have the "SPLICE" testimonies. I attempted to add Chronicler's Perserverance and Temperance, but couldn't come up with one word. If we can go with two, I would suggest PET CLIPS.
Comment by David Carl on 9th mo. 8, 2009 at 5:52pm
I acknowledge this is a serious subject, however, and don't mean to make light of it.
Comment by Raye on 9th mo. 8, 2009 at 6:47pm
Dave, thanks for clarifying that you recognize that our testimony is something not to make light of. Granted, when acronyms start being used, it is a temptation to start messing with them, almost like being drawn into a game of Scrabble. But this isn't Scrabble, clearly. I appreciate Alice pointing out that Friends have had a testimony, not just a set of "testimonies" as they have often been understood. I also appreciate the additional historical information and connection that Chronicler points out between the Truth and our testimony.

Isabel, thanks also, for pointing out the importance of Love in our way of life.
Comment by David Carl on 9th mo. 8, 2009 at 7:38pm
Raye, you're right. Yet I find that humor and seriousness may go hand-in-hand, particularly when we can laugh at ourselves.
Comment by Alan Paxton on 9th mo. 10, 2009 at 2:08pm
Alice
John Punshon's Swarthmore Lecture "Testimony and Tradition" (c1991 I think) contains a good discussion of this point, along similar lines to Chronicler's I recall. Punshon uses the image of a tree: the various particular testimonies - against war, gambling and so on (a lot of the old testimonies seem to be against things rather than for) are the branches, growing out of a single trunk, "Our Christian Testimony".

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